Monday, 27 August 2012

Do You Have A Favourite Dalek?

With the Daleks returning to our television screens this coming Saturday in the new series of Doctor Who in an episode titled Asylum of the Daleks, which is to feature every single Dalek that has ever appeared in Doctor Who from 1963 to the present, it promises to be one hell of an episode. But what was it about the Daleks that made them such an instant smash in the first place that the BBC kept bringing them back? Why were they so scary? And why, when they first appeared on TV all those years ago, did thousands of kids, of which I was one, hide behind their parents sofa, peeping nervously out from behind the arm-rest, to make sure it was safe to continue watching?  And why was it, when I did a photo shoot with a Dalek for the jacket of my David Tennant biography, did I feel like I was meeting a celebrity? 

It’s hard to describe why the Daleks were so terrifying. They were just metal boxes spinning round threatening to ‘exterminate’ people. But somehow it worked. Somehow they managed to impregnate the national consciousness and became the most terrifying symbol of destruction. Maybe it was the weird staccato voice. Maybe it was a fear of the Nazis on which they were apparently based. But whatever the reason, they were frightening enough to give most children nightmares in the 1960s.

To many, though, yes, it was their chilling speech - and their design. It seems quite remarkable today to think that if it wasn't for a combination of budget restraints and inspiration, the original Daleks, created by Terry Nation, and designed by BBC designer, Ray Cusick, they may never have seen the light of day. And even more remarkable is that if Cusick hadn't had come up the now familiar pepper-pot shape design, the ball-covered skirt, domed head and infamous sink plunger, the Daleks may not have been such a huge hit. In fact, it is a testament to Cusick's design that every time they return, they immediately captivate a whole new generation of fans.

When Doctor Who was once again broadcast in 2005, many fans hoped the Daleks would return to the programme. After much negotiation between the BBC and the Nation estate, which at one point appeared to completely break down, an agreement was reached. Written by Rob Shearman, ‘Dalek’, the sixth episode of Series One, was shown on BBC1 on 30 April 2005. The new Dalek exhibited new features, including a swivelling mid-section that allowed it a 360-degree field of fire and a force field with the ability to disintegrate bullets before they struck it. As well as being able to fly, it could also regenerate itself by means of absorbing electrical power and the DNA of a Time Traveller. The ‘plunger’ manipulator arm could now crush a man’s skull, in addition to the technology interfacing abilities shown by earlier models. When the Dalek fired in a wet, metal room, its laser conducted like electricity. The Doctor described it as a ‘genius’, able to calculate a thousand billion lock combinations in a single second and to download the entire contents of the Internet. A more sophisticated model of the Dalek mutant was also featured.

It seems everyone has a favourite type of Dalek, colour and design. What was yours?

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